Yesterday, our first duty of the day was to set up a “Mosque Patrol.” Since Friday is the day of worship for Muslims, crowds gathered at the historic Ibrahimi Mosque. All visitors had to enter the mosque through stringent Israeli checkpoints and security, removing parts of clothing and surrendering all bags. This is ironic since 29 worshipers were gunned down in the mosque by an Israeli assassin in the recent past. Consequently, using the “rationale” of the Occupation, Muslims going to their own mosque were punished and searched, not Jewish worshipers going to the synagogue next door.
Our van bumped and jerked to At-Tuwani, one of the few success stories – at least for the moment in the West Bank. Until this past year, CPT had a permanent presence there and worked in conjunction with an Italian organization, Operation Dove. Through extensive hard work, non-violent resistance and unlimited perseverance, At-Tuwani now has some security, limited water and electricity, and some acceptance of permanency – for now safe from imminent demolition by the Israel military. Still surrounded by encroaching Jewish settlements and periodic attacks on their children walking to and from school, the people are proud of their success and the women of the village have just received official recognition from Palestinian authorities for their Cooperative which provides work, purpose, education and monies for women in the village.
Last night found us in Susiya. What to say about Susiya? It is a village of 50 families, 530 people, eighteen tents, numerous goats and sheep. It has been bulldozed many times - yes even the tents - but the families would not give up land with deeds dating over a century ago. We pulled up to the tents set up on a hard rock hillside overlooking what was the original town, which has now been turned into an archeological site for Israeli tourists. Our host, Nassar, was born in a cave in Susiya and now must pay admission to see his birthplace which has been claimed by the Israelis as a former Jewish enclave. Nassar explained that a few days ago he had broken an arm in a fall from his tractor but a day later, Israeli settlers who occupy the surround hills had beaten him, rebreaking his arm, and he had to have it set a second time. He clearly was in pain and it was difficult for me to take my eyes off his painful arm as he took us on a village tour. His wife prepared us a wonderful meal that we shared and our delegation stayed with the village that evening sleeping altogether in one large tent set up for us. With little privacy, and exposed to the elements (and animals) as we slept, I reminded myself this was only a few hours of his daily life as our group would leave in the morning and he and his family would remain, living a life we would only barely experience.
The next morning our delegation drove to Ulm Faragah, a Bedouin village trying to rebuild (again) on open hard rocks as Israeli military vehicles stood guard on the hillsides surrounding the village. The 16 families in the small village had no access to utilities even as the electricity and water flowed freely on the hillsides in the Jewish settlements surrounding Ulm Fagarah. We were there to work as one of the village men was coming with supplies to rebuild one of the cement homes that had been demolished. Eventually he came - but no truck or materials. As we sat at first in a tent, then later an underground cave, he explained that he had to hide the truck and materials because with the Israeli military present, they would have confiscated the materials and the potential for violence was too strong. We ended up forming a "rock line" and moving crumbling stone and cement up a hill to replace a flattened rock fence. Since the crumbling materials were already there - and we could not get what we needed - it was the best we could do to help. As the morning wore on we were joined by other "internationals" from Operative Dove and other human rights organizations and our rock line got longer and we could really make fast progress - albeit minimal under the circumstances - there was so much to be done.